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“King tides” in SF Bay Area give taste of things to come

The biggest tides of 2012 are scheduled to hit California later this week, with a peak for the “king tides” on Thursday morning! The Santa Cruz Sentinel article has a map with high tides for many locations inside the San Francisco Bay and a couple of locations outside the Bay on Thursday and Friday. Tides will be highest in the cul-de-sac of the South Bay, where water “piles up” as a result of the tight confines. During these “king tides,” beaches will temporarity disappear, and water will lap high on marinas! King tides occur several times throughout the year, but this week’s tides will be the highest of 2012.

The extreme tides result from the gravitational pulls of the sun and moon, not climate change. Fortunately, flooding is NOT expected because the very high tides will occur during a calm period in the weather.

“Flooding would be a concern if we had a storm system coming through,” said Matt Mehle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey.

Scientists say that the very high tides this week will give a preview of things to come. The ocean off California has already risen 8 inches in the past 100 years. The Santa Cruz Sentinel says:

As the earth warms, polar ice melts, and the warmer ocean water expands, increasing sea level. That rate of sea level rise is accelerating.

A National Academy of Sciences report in July found that, relative to sea levels in 2000, the California coast south of Cape Mendocino is projected to experience sea level rise of 1.5 inches to 11.8 inches by 2030, and 4.7 inches to 24 inches by 2050, and 16.5 inches to 65 inches by 2100.

The latter numbers — more than a 5-foot increase — would put large sections of coastal California underwater, including Bay Area airports, Treasure Island and Silicon Valley businesses, such as Oracle, particularly during major storms, requiring tens of billions of dollars in sea walls and other defenses.

When people see the very high tides this week, scientists hope that they make the connection to the very real phenomenon of climate change.

“You can read something, but when you see it firsthand, it’s more powerful,” said Gary Griggs, director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. “When you see a place you know, when you see a king tide and say, wow, it’s six inches from the San Francisco International Airport runway, you realize this is real. It’s not just a model.”

“Sandy brought us to our senses,” Griggs said. “Because of the drought this year, because of the loss of arctic ice, people are finally understanding climate change.”

The tides will be as high as plus-10.1 feet Thursday morning at the Dumbarton Bridge, plus-8.7 feet at San Leandro Marina and plus-6.7 feet in Santa Cruz. They’re higher in the bay, Griggs said, because the bay acts as a cul-de-sac, where water surges in and piles up.

A coalition of government and nonprofit groups is asking the public to photograph the high and low tides, as they have for the last two years.

The project, called the California King Tides Initiative, posts the photos online. Since 2010, nearly 500 photos from 28 California cities have been posted to the site showing king tide events in California. They have been featured at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences and other prominent places. Similar “citizen science” photo projects around king tides have been organized in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Australia.

“We are trying to create a living archive of images we can all use to communicate about sea level rise,” said the initiative’s coordinator, Heidi Nutters, of the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, based in Tiburon. “Climate change is not only about polar bears in the arctic. It’s about what’s happening on our coasts right now and today.”

For more information about the photo project, go to www.californiakingtides.org.

(Update added December 12, 2012: For photos of what flooding caused by king tides in Marin, San Francisco, and the South Bay looks like SO FAR, see THIS article!)

-Bill at

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